CORVALLIS, Ore. — It might go down as Creighton’s greatest comeback in program history.
Trailing Michigan 7-4 entering the top of the ninth inning, the Bluejays scored seven runs Sunday night to force a deciding game in the Oregon State Regional.
The 11-7 victory sets up a second final at 6 p.m. Monday. The game was moved up three hours from its originally scheduled time to accommodate TV coverage.
“Let me say that I don’t usually have trouble talking about baseball, but after this one I don’t know what to say, other than I’m real proud of our guys,” coach Ed Servais said. “It didn’t look real good at times, but this is not the first time that we had a late comeback in a game. It just hasn’t happened in this kind of game.”
And Servais said that his team is ready to play more baseball.
“I think we will (have the momentum),” he said. “I do believe college athletes do carry momentum. I think our guys can play 18 innings right now.”
Creighton (41-12) started their ninth-inning comeback with a walk and a single. That necessitated the first of many pitching moves by Michigan.
The Wolverines replaced Benjamin Keizer with Jack Weisenburger, who recorded the final out in the Wolverines’ 6-0 tournament-opening win against Creighton on Friday.
Parker Upton worked a full count against Weisenburger, then took a pitch inside for ball 4 to load the bases. Big East player of the year Jake Holton also worked a full count and sent a deep drive to center. His sacrifice fly advanced all three runners and cut the deficit to 7-5.
Will Robertson followed with a double off the left-field fence, plating Isaac Collins to bring Creighton within a run and increase the volume of a throng of Bluejay supporters behind the first-base dugout.
“The fans are why we are here,” Creighton closer Bobby Kametas said. “They were great the entire weekend and they’ve always supported us the entire year.”
Michigan went to its bullpen one more time, bringing in Isaiah Paige. He intentionally walked Jack Strunc to reload the bases. But Paige didn’t fare any better than the previous relievers.
He also walked Jordan Hovey on four straight pitches to tie the score.
“I think our attitude as a team was: ‘We’ve done this before,’” Hanafan said. “Throughout our dugout we were saying, ’Give ourselves a chance and get the guys at the top our lineup up.’ And that’s what we really did.”
Creighton took an 8-7 lead on Jason Allbery’s bloop single down the right-field line. Hovey made it 9-7 when he slid home on a passed ball. Finally, Will Hanafan delivered a two-run single to cap the scoring.
“You don’t often see seven runs scored on three hits,” Servais said. “There was a lot of stuff that went on in that ninth inning. To be honest, they helped us out a lot. But our guys still had to stay disciplined, lay off certain pitches and create walks to get ourselves in that situation.”
It was a crushing defeat for Michigan, which was three outs from earning its ninth trip to the super regionals.
“We had a meltdown in the ninth inning. … I don’t know why it happened, but it happened, and we’re just going to move on,” Wolverine coach Erik Bakich said. “We get to play tomorrow and that’s what we’re looking forward to now.”
After dispatching Cincinnati 6-1 in an elimination game earlier Sunday, CU — playing in its first regional final in seven years — got an early jump on Michigan.
Collins doubled and scored in the first inning and Hanafan homered to give the Bluejays a 2-0 lead against major league draft prospect Tommy Henry. It was Hanafan’s first homer of the season.
“I saw the left fielder jump at it and I honestly thought it would go off the wall,” Hanafan said.
But the 2-0 lead didn’t last.
Jimmy Kerr crushed a Denson Hull fastball over the green screen that towers 20 feet over the fence in dead center for a three-run homer in the third. But Hull negotiated several tricky jams to prevent Michigan from increasing its lead.
He escaped bases-loaded situations in the second and fourth innings before he lifted after giving up his fourth earned run in the sixth.
Kametas, however, couldn’t escape another jam in the seventh. With two outs and runners on second and third, freshman Riley Bertram delivered a two-run double along the right-field foul line that pushed Michigan’s lead to 6-2.
The Bluejays didn’t go down quietly.
Parker Upton ended Henry’s night with a homer to left-center with one out in the eighth. Willie Weiss was summoned from Michigan’s bullpen to end the threat but couldn’t find the strike zone. He walked two and hit another to fill the bases with two outs.
Keizer was next out of the Wolverines’ bullpen and quickly threw two strikes to Allbery. But Keizer hit Allbery in the leg to make the score 6-4.
Keizer recovered, though, getting David Vilches to fly out to right to leave the bases filled.
In the top of the ninth, Kerr jacked his second homer of the game. He pulled a Kametas pitch over the right-field fence for a 7-4 Michigan lead.
“The one moment that really stuck out to me was in the dugout when teammate Ryan Connolly said, ‘Yes we can. Yes we can!’ He kept our hopes up and kept me from thinking negative thoughts,” Kametas said. “And once my teammates made all those runs, I know I was going to do my job for my teammates.”
Hull gave up eight hits, walked two and struck out four in 5⅓ innings.
Kametas worked the final three innings with mixed results but earned the victory. He retired seven of the final nine hitters, including the last three after walking Christan Bullock to start the bottom of the ninth.
It was Creighton’s first win against Michigan after losing the three previous meetings, including when the Wolverines shut out the Jays on Friday.